Michael Haneke's 'Amour' takes the Palme d'Or at Cannes

Posted by · 8:46 am · May 27th, 2012

So, it was the favorite all along. Michael Haneke’s “Amour” looked, on paper, the film to beat before this year’s Cannes Film Festival started. The rapturous critical reception that greeted its unveiling solidified its position as the frontrunner. Only concerns like “too obvious” and “he already has one” prevented some pundits (myself included) from predicting it for the Palme d’Or, and we were clearly overthinking matters.

Tonight, Nanni Moretti’s jury handed Haneke the Palme, making him the seventh filmmaker to win the award twice — and only the second to win for consecutive films. Between the predictability of the decision and the director’s existing laurels, there’s a temptation to complain that the jury has made a safe choice here, an anticlimactically conservative one. (And not just with the Palme: all five of the Competition filmmakers rewarded by the jury tonight have won at Cannes before. It’s a members’ club, all right.) The ideal way to ward off such petty feeling, however, would be to take an immediate second look at “Amour” — to remind oneself of its immaculacy of construction, its delicacy of performance, its simple strength of feeling.

I shall elaborate on this in a full review that I’ve been stalling over for days, but “Amour” is in many respects a remarkable film, and a superior effort to Haneke’s first Palme winner, the not-inconsiderable “The White Ribbon.” That it’s not his boldest or his best is more a tribute to his filmography than it is a slight on this individual work. If not a particularly exciting choice for world cinema’s most elevated honor, it’s a creditable and sure-to-be-enduring one.

Moreover, given the other films from this year’s less-than-vintage lineup that evidently floated the jury’s boat, I’d say the win for “Amour” represents the best possible outcome. Of course I, along with a sizable band of critics at Cannes, had been holding out hope that Leos Carax’s astonishing “Holy Motors,” the most inventive, most stimulating, most beautiful and flat-out best film in Competition this year, would find its way to an award. But Carax’s wildly surreal vision never seemed a likely fit with the sensibility of a mild, humanist filmmaker like Moretti, and sure enough, rumors started circulating days ago along the Croisette that the Italian strongly disliked “Holy Motors,” and that “Amour” and Cristian Mungiu’s strenuous study of faith and friendship, “Beyond the Hills,” were rather more up his alley.

Today’s awards ceremony proved the rumors true: “Holy Motors” was entirely shut out, scoring not even the Best Actor award that even critics less high on the film admitted Denis Lavant deserved for his elastic inhabitation of 11 different personages. (The jury preferred Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen, who, playing a schoolteacher false accused of paedophilia, anchors Thomas Vinterberg’s melodrama “The Hunt” with dignity and authority. Lavant’s performance, however, is a next-level achievement.) Team Carax can console themselves with the knowledge that “Holy Motors” is now parked with some very fine company: what an opportune time to link to my list of the festival’s greatest losers.

“Beyond the Hills” did indeed turn out to be a jury favorite: it was the only film to take two awards, winning Best Screenplay for Mungiu and a joint Best Actress prize for its young leads, Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan — both first-time actresses. It’s an outcome that vaults Mungiu clear of the feared post-Palme slump, though I have yet to speak to a critic who thinks that his latest — as rigorously composed as you’d expect, but distinctly lacking in dramatic urgency or surprise — is on the level of 2007’s festival darling, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”

The two newcomers are strong, though there were other, more arresting female performances in contention. Also, though neither of them won an award, Moretti made special mention of the outstanding contribution of “Amour” leads Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant to the film, as they took to the stage with Haneke to accept the Palme. One suspects either or both of them would have been directly rewarded were it not for finicky rules, preventing extra awards for Palme winners, that festival organizers appear to have concocted in recent years. 

While many speculated that this year’s Palme race promised a repeat of 2009’s Michael Haneke-Jacques Audiard showdown, it would now appear that Audiard wasn’t even in the running. “Rust and Bone” premiered early in the festival and, while more divisive than “Amour,” garnered some keen critical support, but like fellow French title “Holy Motors,” it was left on the sidelines. (Another prominently frozen-out Frenchman? 90-year-old Alain Resnais, foiled on his sixth attempt at the the Palme.)

Instead, most of the runner-up prizes went to films that hadn’t really been in the critical conversation. For the Grand Prix, effectively the silver medal, Moretti looked to his homeland, handing the prize to Matteo Garrone for his reality-TV satire “Reality.” Garrone took the very same prize home for “Gomorrah” four years ago, and “Reality” was politely reviewed, but few were considering it a major contender.

An even less expected winner was Cannes fixture Ken Loach, whose lightweight, whisky-soaked comedy “The Angel’s Share” snagged the Jury Prize, despite many festival-watchers grumbling about the British veteran receiving his umpteenth Competition berth. As bad luck would have it, I haven’t seen either film — though I’ll catch up with the Loach when it opens in the UK next week. (I caught 18 of the 22 Competition titles: sod’s law dictated that the first and second runners-up would come from the unseen quartet.) 

As predicted, Un Certain Regard favorite “Beasts of the Southern Wild” added the Camera d’Or for best debut feature to its growing trophy cabinet. The most avant-garde win, meanwhile, came in the Best Director category: “Post Tenebras Lux,” Carlos Reygadas’s non-narrative scrapbook of virtual home videos, throbbing orgy scenes, animated devils and schoolboy rugby footage, befuddled most critics at the festival, earning a smattering of boos at its press screening. Handing it a major prize is a gutsy move, one I’d be happier to endorse if I didn’t think the film was mostly unbearable myself.

At this stage, however, who has the energy to argue? You’ve probably already heard that “Post Tenebras Lux” ends with a shot of a man pulling off his own head — so if nothing else, the film deserves props for providing weary critics with their most accurately self-descriptive metaphor of the festival. Au revoir, Cannes. 

Palme d’Or: “Amour,” Michael Haneke

Grand Prix du Jury: “Reality,” Matteo Garrone

Prix du Jury: “The Angel’s Share,” Ken Loach  

Best Director: “Post Tenebras Lux,” Carlos Reygadas 

Best Screenplay: “Beyond the Hills,” Cristian Mungiu 

Best Actor: Mads Mikkelsen, “The Hunt”

Best Actress: Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, “Beyond the Hills” 

Best Short Film: “Silence”

Camera d’Or: “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Benh Zeitlin

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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